I'm currently in a superhero game and it's interesting because the GM and I share many traits, so now I get to see what they're like from the other side of the GM screen.
Some of them I don't much like. And I am guilty of inflicting these things on players.
Aside: I have ADHD (as you might have guessed from the way this blog moves in fits and starts) and one of the things I have noticed with my children and me is that the good really has to outweigh the bad or the ADHD person has a bad impression. Like, you have to have three compliments for every criticism in order for the person to feel it's even-handed, and a higher ratio for them to actually feel positively about the event.
So I might be biased.
However, in four sessions of superhero gaming, we have yet to win. It's Champions and five to eight players, so that's only two fights. (Cue Champions bashing, but I wouldn't have joined the campaign if I didn't accept the system.)
And what galls me and takes the fun away from me is that we won neither of those fights. The villains decided they were done and left.
Now, I can come up with narrative reasons why that's true. Maybe:
- The GM is showing us that it's a dangerous world.
- The GM is acquainting us with the heavy hitters of this area of the world.
- The GM is trying to make sure that we, the players, work together as a team. (And there is a certain "You do a stupid thing, you don't have plot immunity" vibe.)
But still..four sessions and from a player standpoint it feels like we haven't succeeded at anything heroic yet.
In fact, many of our characters are so laden with power dependencies and activation rolls, that a set of 15- rolls that look impressive (15- is roughly 95%) takes three rolls, so the actual chance of success is about 86%, less if there are other modifiers that place a minus (a 15- with -5 is now a 10- and that is only about half the chance to succeed).
So there's a lesson there: let them succeed.
I'm not saying they have to succeed at everything. God, no: running D&D for the first time reminded me of some joys of failing: The glorious moment when your clever plan fails because somebody rolled a 1.
But if you go back and look at the source material, the heroes usually have some kind of victory:
- They save the innocent.
- They capture the henchmen (who will no doubt be on the street again by tomorrow).
- They prevent the theft of the Jade Cloud of the Phoenix, while not preventing the theft of the ancient Imperial Chinese instruction manual, so the bad guy doesn't have it but the heroes don't know how to use it to stop the bad guy.
These might be partial victories but they are victories. And they're pretty consistent: the good guys win somehow most of the time—over half the time, maybe ninety percent of the time, maybe better. Actual total losses are generally reserved for the darkest moment, right before the climactic battle.
I'm reading Gail Simone's Domino right now, and Domino wins in some fashion most of the time. In a dozen issues, the bleakest moment I can remember was when she had no control over her luck, and even there, the issue ended with her finding someone (Shang-Chi) who could help her. Domino has some reasons for being so down on herself: not everything works, and sometimes it works the wrong way. And really, you're not going to confuse Domino with Superman as far as heroism goes. But there's usually a partial success.
In story-telling terms, the issues and fights are usually "no, but" or "yes, and": "No, you lose but there's a way out of it."
A "No, and" answer is one that feels like, "No, you don't win, and here's something that makes it worse."
Maybe the ADHD makes me more sensitive here. But I feel like in four sessions, you should be able to point to two wins.
And that's something that I can take way from this as a GM and occasional adventure writer.